Beyond the ‘Happy Path’: Managing Dynamic Processes Case-by-Case

posted on 12/22/2011 12:17:28 PM

New to the manufacturing industry, dynamic case management applications can help employees make the right decisions when events stray too far from the norm.

How can a company ensure that people make the best possible decisions at every turn to achieve their business goals, even when something totally unexpected occurs? Most companies have set up systems and operating procedures to accommodate the “happy path,” when everything goes right – as well as a few other likely outcomes.

In the face of a rare or unprecedented event, employees often have little support and face a difficult challenge in responding effectively. Companies with operations or suppliers in Thailand and Japan faced these decisions last year when natural disasters struck. In a more mundane way, people deal with these decisions every day when a maintenance, supply, or product problem occurs.

A category of applications that grew up in service industries is finally arriving in manufacturing: dynamic case management. The concept of case management comes from claims management in the insurance industry; warranty and return issues have similar parameters for discrete equipment manufacturers. An issue comes into the process, and someone conducts an initial assessment to determine whether the claim is valid and covered under warranty. Someone else may need to diagnose the product to determine whether there is a real problem, and a whole series of tasks may be involved to resolve the claim.

Other examples of dynamic processes in manufacturing where case management might be effective include maintenance and repair operations, supplied material problems, and customer complaints. Additional areas might include regulatory compliance, new product introduction, and engineering change management. Whenever there is an assessment of a situation that kicks off a set of processes that all must play together and don’t fall neatly into the purview of a single application, this approach can help.

More and more applications have a workflow engine built in to ensure that people execute on processes as they should – CRM, ERP, MES, and PLM products often address workflow. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s often not enough. That’s because many critical processes span the boundaries of multiple applications, need an array of information from many sources, and include both people and automation. Dynamic processes also have uncertainty, so their path is determined by what happens at each step, sometimes beyond what could easily be pre-defined by BPM apps.

Case management software suppliers delivering into manufacturing include Appian; Cordys, which has been focused on manufacturing since its inception; EMC, in a limited scope with its engineering change management solutions; ISIS, just entering the sector with its Papyrus platform; and Pegasystems, a major player in case management. While these products are relatively new to the manufacturing industry, they are well proven in service businesses.

Case management software can be joined with existing applications. These products pull data from myriad applications as well as unstructured data that might contribute to this type of process, and bring it all together in an appropriate context for decisions by each person working on a case.

To support processes that not only cross application boundaries but are dynamic in nature, you may need a case management system that layers on top of your existing applications. Think how much more efficient your people can be and how much more effective their decisions might be with all of the rules enforced, the ability to manage effectively when something occurs outside the scope of those rules, and information available to every person involved. With the volatility of today’s business, a system that helps manage these dynamic processes is core to having happy outcomes when things stray from the happy path.

Julie Fraser is president of Cambashi Inc., the U.S. arm of the industrial-focused analyst/consulting/market research firm based in the United Kingdom.